Monthly Archives: August, 2011

Only Ever Always forever

I’ve always been wary of reviewers who call authors ‘ambitious’. It seems like a potentially back-handed compliment; like, ambitious but didn’t succeed? Ambitious in the evil stab-you-in-the-back way?

I must call Only Ever Always ambitious. And I mean ambitious in try-anything, why-the-hell-not way. Because this is a novel that combines first, third, AND second-person narratives, and that’s pretty ambitious. And outrageous to even suggest. What’s awesome is that, although I found the first few shifts in perspectives a bit disconcerting, it most definitely works.

Russon gives us two different worlds, two sides of the same coin in many ways, where – to push the analogy perhaps too far – one side has been subjected to normal wear and tear, but the other side has been used much, much harder. In the first world is Claire, living a very recognisable life with recognisable griefs – no less grief for being recognisable, of course. In the second is Clara, living in a world where medicine is hard to find and four walls for one room is unusual, but still with its recognisable elements: powerful people pulling strings, and small people getting stuffed around. Somehow, Claire’s and Clara’s paths come within reach of each other… and things change.

The narrative structure is one of the most striking things about this book; it’s only 157 pages long, but those changes in POV are dramatic and confronting and, well, striking. And effective; to be in the position of a character and telling the story one moment, to having your story told at you, to then being only an observer – it works, at this length anyway, to make the characters and their stories all the more enticing and compelling. This would probably have been the case anyway, because setting Claire’s grief against Clara’s struggle to survive and the conjunctions between their worlds makes for a really engaging plot. And the character of the two girls – their similarities and differences – made them very engaging characters, too; Claire in particular was believable, with her attitudes towards her family and beloved objects.

Finally, let me say that this is a really interesting cross-over of fantasy and science fiction. The multiple-worlds thing can be either a fantasy or SF trope. The dystopic world that Clara inhabits makes this, I think, more of a science fiction than a fantasy, but really that’s splitting hairs. It could be read as either. And it’s brilliant either way.

Malfunctions, space spiderwebs and tight black leather

Alex’s Discovery of Blake’s 7 continues…

numerous spoilers, if you’re concerned.

1.5

Turns out telepathy in our new alien friend Cally might not be such a good thing after all. I really liked the cinematography when Cally was under the influence of the evil little homunculi, which by the way was very icky, especially when it’s revealed to be a corporate entity. Bit sad that it proved Jenna’s suspicion of Cally as worthy, and so quickly, although she does end up proving herself (again) and Jenna too falls under the telepathic spell.

These aliens (dressed in cling wrap), like the last set, are not particularly nice. They have plans to cull their run-away mutant experiments (dressed in papier mâché) who keep attacking them; and I’ll bet Tansy won’t be happy if I suggest that the female alien reminds me a lot of Luna Lovegood…. Blake and co are drawn to the planet by the experimenting telepathic psychopath so that they can get a power boost, and their ship (the Liberator) is kept there by a fungal space spiderweb analogue.

I was disappointed in Blake when he gave in so easily, giving the power cells rather than bargaining a bit harder for the cling-wrap aliens to leave the Decimas alive. However, when the experimental papier-mâché-clad types did get access to the base and not only destroyed the place but also their creators… well. I’m amazed that here, in the fifth episode, the writers have made the show quite so problematic. Those Blake wants to protect have twice proven to be nearly disastrous for the crew. And interestingly, despite their brutality, Blake still insists on defending the Decimas’ right to live. Perhaps this is one of the big things that differentiates him from the Federation.

Avon saved Blake from a bomb blast!! Aw, so cute. I bet there’s heaps of Blake/Avon slashfic out there… and I bet I get people at this post because of those words… it amuses me that Blake insists on seeing the good in everyone, while Avon keeps making snarky comments and even overt plans for what he will do when Blake is finally no longer in charge. Can’t wait to see how that relationship develops.

1.6

Blake’s crew carry their explosives in an esky. And the Federation’s security robots are even funnier than the original Marvin.

I don’t believe that it’s actually explained to the viewer what Blake et al is doing on this new planet at the start of this episode. Perhaps we are meant to go along with randomly progressing through the galaxy sabotaging our merry way. … Oh, turns out they’re after a cypher machine. Useful thing to steal.

I was just beginning to think that Vila’s extreme cowardice might eventually get quite wearing, when all of a sudden he sprinted to try and take down a guard! Remarkable. Perhaps he will continue to grow a spine.

Now there’s an idea: if Blake is Dorothy, what does everyone need? Avon needs a conscience, Vila bravery, Gan self-determination, Cally a purpose in life… can’t figure out what Jenna might be lacking.

It continues to be a really awesome aspect of this show that we get to see the perspective of Blake’s enemies – not just to see their evilness, but to watch their deliberations and understand their purposes. There’s not many shows like this that are either so confident in their viewers’ love for the good guys, or are so willing to show the grey realities of life.

The fashions continue to be spectacular. Supreme Commander Servelan’s ice-queen-and-diamonds outfit is particularly impressive (although I don’t yet understand why Tansy and others used #ignorethestrings on Twitter when discussing her…). And I’m guessing that, since our first introduction to Space Commander Travis is by looking at his butt in rather tight black leather, Travis will be an important character in this show. (I am also guessing this because I remember seeing a Blake’s 7 doll with a black eyepatch on Tansy’s blog.) I think I am going to enjoy Travis. His evil makes Avon look amateur. And the fact that Blake and Travis have A History will surely add some lovely nuances. Where ‘lovely’ is coloured by the fact that Travis has no compunctions about shooting unarmed prisoners, using drugs on Cally to get information out of her, and using the knowledge that Blake has a cypher machine to manipulate him. Everything a good villain needs to be capable of.

I’m now nearly halfway through this first season. If the format continues to be explode-Federation-base-and-meet-new-aliens, I’m not entirely sure that I’ll be able to go four seasons. However I will keep going, because for the moment it’s certainly entertaining.

Blake’s 7 finally becomes 7

Many spoilers in this second instalment of Alex’s Discovery of Blake’s 7.

1.3

So I was just getting comfortable with the idea of the prison ship towards the end of episode 2 when all of a sudden Blake, Avon, and the woman whose name I am still unsure of are in charge of an alien ship, running away from the prison transport and, somewhat bizarrely, towards Cygnus Alpha to pick up the other prisoners, so that they have a crew. Episode 3 opens with the three of them getting to know the ship, which includes interacting with a computer that, to my SF-cynical and AI-alert eyes, is exhibiting every symptom of a little bit too much intelligence for my liking (I couldn’t help but be suspicious when there was a room full of clothes for the humans to change into). As well as getting used to the navigational system, which is a whole lot faster than they were expecting, our heroes also discover a set of bracelets… which they somehow determine as likely to be transport devices (and hello, Stargate seems to owe something to Blake’s!), which Blake bravely decides to experiment with. Because they are now orbiting Cygnus Alpha, and it’s time to figure out how to get some prisoners back off again.

Of course, things are not hunky dory on the prison planet – how could they be? – and this is when things got all mind-bendy on me. Because from the original colonists has grown a lovely little cult which every new arrival is forced to join, or die. The prisoners are in the process of being introduced to their new way of life, including being told that they now have a deadly disease that can only be managed with a local drug (lies, all lies). There is, eventually, an awesome battle involving most of the prisoners, Blake, random priests and the leader of the cult – the mighty Brian Blessed, who is magnificent in this rather bizarre role.

This was quite a weird episode, although it does continue to develop the various characters. I am still loving Avon, much to Tansy’s delight; the fact that he very nearly convinces the woman to leave without Blake, when he is overdue from reporting in, is a measure of just tricksy he is likely to be. I’m really appreciating that there is a genuine diversity in the types of characters, from the cowardly to the brave and so on. Also, the woman is so the only pilot – I really hope that continues!

1.4

A sabotage mission and a rescue mission – this crew certainly like balancing their copy sheet.

I really thought, when I saw the two aliens in the cryo pod, that here would be Blake’s 6th and 7th. Instead they’re homicidal maniacs.

Gan is turning into a far more interesting character than I had initially anticipated. I thought he was going to be simply the brawn, but it was he who had the thought about the computer, Zen, having some sort of limiter on it, preventing it from helping the crew too much, and then his discussion of having to stay with Blake in order to survive (plus the view of his skull with something implanted in it, which turns out to be a limited so that he is incapable of killing)… well. I hope he develops more. The idea of a brain implant to control behaviour is yet another example of how evil the Federation is, and reinforces the need for what Blake etc are doing on Saurian 4 – destroying the interplanetary communication capabilities of the Federation as a whole.

Ooh, a female human-but-alien telepathic resistance fighter on Saurian 4! … unfortunately falls for very old tricks when fighting. Anyway, rather than suiciding in a blaze of glory she ends up helping our heroes. And joins the crew, completing the complement – because Blake counts Zen as a member. So, 2 women, 4 men, and a computer. Actually not bad for 1978. Sad they had to make Jenna (remembered her name!) a bit suspicious of Cally, because it can’t help but read as jealousy….

I’m loving Jenna’s boots.

Crossing the Universe: not as easy as it sounds

Girl. Boy. Spaceship. Murder. Deception. Totalitarian political system, manipulation, and art.

I loved this book a very, very great deal.

Like Leviathan Wakes (and it’s about the only thing the two books have in common, aside from the whole space thing), Across the Universe is a dual narrative, although here it’s two first-person voices. In this case, one POV is Amy: frozen in hibernation, accompanying her parents to a new planet to be amongst its first colonists. (Which may make you ask how she can be a narrator… just trust me on this one.) On the other hand is Elder, awake on the same ship Amy is sleeping on, part of the generation crew tasked with looking after the ship while it travels to the planet – a journey of some 300 years. The story revolves around Amy waking up ahead of time. Accidentally. And she’s cranky about it. As you would be. Amy’s awakening is a disruption on two significant levels: for Elder personally, because he finally has someone around of the same age but she’s like no one else he’s met; and for the ship, not least because it is mono-ethnic – an ethnicity that Amy quite clearly does not fit. Both Elder and the ship as a whole struggle to figure out how Amy can fit in. On a ship hurtling through space, with limited resources and no way to leave if you don’t like things, fitting in seems of paramount importance. So what does Amy do, what does Elder do, and why is Amy awake now anyway?

Along with a cracking pace and intriguing plot, there are some meaty issues to be dealt with. On the large scale, there’s the issue of how a generation ship could be made to work. This is a question that has frequently taxed SF; Elizabeth Bear’s Dust/Chill/Grail sequence is one example that goes in completely different directions from Revis. On the face of it life on the Godspeed looks like it works quite well, but very quickly it becomes obvious that perhaps there are cracks that have been papered over. Connected to this is the question of leadership, and what makes a good leader; Elder is learning from Eldest, and his reflections on what works and what does not are by no means trivial. On the more personal scale is how individuals deal with trauma, and expectations, and their own inner demons. Amy’s angst over whether to join her parents, and then how to cope with being woken early, is visceral and compelling. Elder’s disagreements with Eldest and how discoveries about the ship are in some ways less shattering, but have further-reaching consequences. And then there’s Harley, who I wish had had more of a presence in the novel. An artist, impacted by tragedy, and a better friend to both Elder and Amy than either to the other. His perspective, even though we get it solely through Amy and Elder, adds great richness. And poignancy.

Also, there is a love story. But not an easy one.

Plus, that cover! Beautiful!

There is some hand-wavey science-y stuff that doesn’t entirely make sense, and for the more technically-minded this may well be enough to throw you out of the story (Niall H!). I am not that person; I love my science but I am willing, for a good cause, to be very forgiving of hand-waving when it’s not too obvious (to me!) – and as you can see, this was a very good cause indeed (for me).

This is (of course) the first in a projected trilogy. I hope Revis can maintain the awesomeness.

(To make things even more fun, Beth Revis sounds like a totally awesome person. She was a teacher, who loved teaching! She likes Shakespeare for the dirty jokes and wrote her MA on CS Lewis’ Till We Have Faces (oh I must re-read that, I haven’t read it in such a long time). She is racing her mother to see which can get to the most (US) states! That says… quite a lot, really.)

Some slight spoilers in the comments.

Mappa Mundi

 

Really enjoyed the story as a whole. It opens with a series of vignettes, “Legends,” mostly set in the childhood of various characters. One of the games I played as I read was figuring out which character had had a legend (this shouldn’t have been very hard, given they are all named… but I have a poor memory and I read too fast, so you know. It worked for me). This was a really cool technique. However, the characters are not a strong point – more to the point, I think the female characters are not a strong point. Some of the men weren’t great either, but more of them were interesting and appealing and relate-able than women, for me.

 

The story as a whole is a compelling one, dealing as it does with mind-mapping and (potentially) -controlling technology. The world is a very near-future one – even closer than when Robson wrote it, actually, since some of the technology she throws in that in 2001 may have seemed quite ‘tomorrow’ is already here! Most of the story flows nicely, with only a few only-for-the-narrative moments, none of which were tooo jarring. It’s well-paced, and the shifting between characters works nicely to build tension and provide juxtaposition.

This review was written ages ago and I meant to add more, and then… time went on… and now of course I have forgotten what I was going to say. I was also going to link to Dreams and Speculation, the blog that hosted the 2011 Women in SF Book Club until it folded a couple of months ago, but the blog itself seems to have disappeared – which is sad, because we had a really interesting discussion on various aspects of this novel. 

The Leviathan may be awake…

… but it’s not that impressive, as these things go.

The inner solar system is quite well colonised, and humanity is beginning to move out into the outer reaches as well. Unsurprisingly, there is friction between the planets – and the asteroid colonies – in some of the same ways, I feel, as there was in Africa when European countries decided they wanted to establish colonies on that continent (without, happily, the mitigating issue of prior occupation). Who should have control – the people in the area or the people back home? How do you make decisions when communications suffer a significant lag – and when the conditions there are significantly different from the conditions here? And then you add in travel time, and rogue elements care of capitalism and free enterprise, and you have a rather chaotic system. On the scale of the solar system, even if you restrict yourself to the asteroid belt and in, that’s a very messy situation indeed. I really, really enjoyed the world-building here. The description of the living situation on the asteroids in particular was very compelling, and the way in which – for example – relying on external sources for all of your air and water would change people’s attitudes towards those fundamentals, and the corresponding cascading effects, was beautifully drawn. I also enjoyed that the focus was largely off-planet; it would have been a very different story had it been slightly more, well, grounded.

The notion of Earth/Mars rivalry is not a new one, of course; many authors who have suggested planetary colonisation have imagined at least political disputes, if not war, over issues such as governance and resources. Here, though, it is not the focus of the plot; more the background, and the catalyst, and eventually the binding factor in two quite different narratives. One of those narratives is a detective yarn that owes a lot to the noir: grizzled cop looking for missing girl, ends up getting involved in something much bigger than he expects. The other narrative is of a space-lovin’ ship’s captain who stumbles across the wrong derelict, and ends up getting himself chased from one end of the system to the other because of some rather delicate intel that he accidentally gets his hands on. Miller, the cop, and Holden, the captain, trade chapters throughout most of the book – although it’s all in third-person, so there’s still a barrier between reader and character. Their stories start in quite different places (literally and metaphorically), and spend the novel (550-odd pages) merging and twining and departing in clever and intriguing ways. James S.A Corey is actually Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck writing together (quite why you would go with a nomme de plume and then tell absolutely everyone about it confuses me; were they told that collaborations didn’t sell, or was it whimsy?), and I wonder whether each of them was largely responsible for one narrative – not that I could pick a difference in writing styles.

I had one big problem with this novel, which colours my view of it, and that was Miller’s developing preoccupation with Julie, the girl he is tasked with finding. Some of the reasons for why he might become obsessed with her are developed along the way, but it made me feel quite uncomfortable, and additionally I did not feel as though that discomfort was part of the intended effect. While other characters acknowledge that Miller has taken it a bit far, quite how creepy and weird that is is not made explicit. This was problematic for me, although not enough to make me stop reading.

My view, then, of Miller is tainted by his (non-)relationship with Julie. Overall he is one of those not-necessarily-likeable characters whom a reader nonetheless can (perhaps grudgingly) admire and appreciate (caveat above in mind), making hard choices and occasionally getting them wrong but standing by them, and his own morals, through various tribulations. And I did end up overall admiring him. Holden is a very different character, as is appropriate for a multi-point of view novel. He tends more towards action, although to say that one is brain and the other brawn is doing both a disservice. I think Holden is easier to like, as a person, although he certainly has his own faults. This may partly be because we see Holden interacting more positively with more people, particularly the crew of his ship, whom we also get to know somewhat; Holden’s story is largely theirs as well, and they are a disparate and motley group indeed. Their banter, and their cooperation, helped make Holden’s sections of the story more enjoyable for me than Miller’s.

The cover of my paperback has George RR Martin proclaiming this book as “Kickass space opera” and, much though I hesitate to quibble with GRRM, I feel I must. An enjoyable piece of SF, absolutely. I’ll probably read the sequels (this is the first of a trilogy, and it ends with a really awesome twist). While I am not especially one to quibble over sub-categorisation, for me this was not space opera. It was not… operatic enough. Not grandiose enough. The distances involved were too small, the plots too petty (in the sense of petite, rather than mean), the scope and implications not wide enough for it to count as such. Still, it was an enjoyable ride and it will be interesting to see where Corey/Abraham/Franck go with the story in the rest of the trilogy.

Galactic Suburbia 39

In which we defend Mary Sues everywhere, point at superheroes with their pants down, plan a Hugo Twitterparti and reveal which of the three of us is secretly a hardcore horror fan.  But most importantly (according to Tansy), Alex is watching Blake’s 7 completely unspoiled and she loves Avon the best, hooray! You can get us from iTunes or download us from Galactic Suburbia.

News

The Mary Sue Conversation:

Zoe Marriott
Sarah Rees Brennan
Holly Black 
Elizabeth Bear 
“Sometimes a book is about a female character because there are female people in the world.”

What if Male Superheroes posed like Wonder Woman 
Gender Bent Justice League

Bonus, superheroes without pants (except Wonder Woman)

Cat Valente steps down from Apex Magazine as fiction editor, Lynne M Thomas steps up.
Alex wants to be in Reno. 
Join @GalacticSuburbs in whatever the right time zone is and Twitterparti the Hugos with us!
What Culture Have we Consumed?
Alisa: The Hunger Games, Life on Mars UK, The Women’s Hour Podcast, Doctor Who
Tansy: Lords & Ladies, Terry Pratchett; Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical, Rob Shearman; Rob on the Big Finish Podcast, Xena & the mystical pregnancy
Alex: Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi; Blake’s 7; Across the Universe, Beth Revis.

Featured Feedback:

Grant Watson (and our producer) pointed out to Tansy that Jason Todd died in “A Death in the Family” and not “The Killing Joke.”  She is very sorry.

Kirstyn McDermott took us to task over our dismissive attitude to horror, and we decided to address her concerns and chew over our complicated relationship with the darker side of spec fic.

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

Blake’s 7: my education begins

Because I have finished the Discovery of Bujold, I have decided to move on to the next franchise people have been raving at me about: Blake’s 7.  This is a slightly different case from the Vorkosigan stories, though. For a start, it’s a TV show. For another, there are 4 seasons, not 14 novels… although there are 13 episodes in each season. And finally, it’s a TV show that came out of the BBC in 1978.

That year ought to give the non-Blake’s fans an idea of the costuming. Its origin in the BBC ought to tell you something about the budget and prop design.

I have watched the first two episodes now. When I announced this, certain people went TOTALLY gushy and fangirly and went wild at the idea that I might blog about this. So this is my response. I’m not sure I’ll write about every episode, and I’m not sure I’ll even watch all of them – apparently the format settles down after four or so eps, and I might find that gets boring (also my source of these discs is BigPondMovies, which is shutting down its service of actually sending discs in a fortnight, and iTunes doesn’t appear to have the show… so I don’t know how I’ll get them, now). Nonetheless, herewith find Alex’s Ruminations on Blake’s 7 (inc spoilers).

Going in, I had absolutely no idea what the show was about. I vaguely believed it was SF, because of Tansy’s unreasoning love for it, but that was all. So once I got over the hilarious costumes, and the fact that Blake is totally not good-looking, I was flabbergasted to discover that this was a political dystopia, with memory suppression and violent security forces and the mass murder of dissidents in the first 30 minutes or so. Seriously blown away. And then, to have the main character falsely accused and found guilty of child molestation, and his lawyer disposed when he got too nosy, while still in the first episode? That sort of thing doesn’t even happen in Spooks, let alone any other show today.

The first episode, perhaps needless to say, really impressed me. I liked that they didn’t make Blake remember everything immediately, I liked that the lawyer had to work for the information… it certainly starts out as a very tough show. With appalling fashion and terrible props, but you know – whatever. I couldn’t really pick up the character names in this ep, aside from Blake, so when various people started mooning over the favourite characters I was at a loss.

The second episode continues to punch as hard if not harder. Onboard the prison ship, probably bound for Cygnus Alpha but maybe about to be spaced to save the prison ship time and money, the prisoners hatch a plan to take over the ship – helped by having the world’s second-best hacker on board (who’s the first? The guy who caught him…). This plan is being cooked up while the crew are being distracted by a space battle around them, the protagonists of which are quite unknown. And for a while it looks like the prisoners might actually take the ship, until Raiker – the very very evil 2IC who would quite like to have the only female prisoner as his concubine for the duration – forces Blake, Avon, and Jenna to surrender by steadily shooting his way though the other prisoners. So in this, the second episode, we have several prisoners shot in cold blood, a young and eager prisoner dying when the crawlway is filled with foam after the hull is breached, the only woman look like she’s about to be made into a sex slave… and that’s maybe halfway through? I’m sitting there thinking, how the heck did this make four seasons? Surely it’s a mini-series! Or surely it jumps the shark and Tansy et al were either brainwashed or haven’t watched it in ages.

The rest of the second episode is taken up with the crew trying to salvage a probably derelict alien ship, which sends three of their crew mad or dead, at which point they send in Blake, Jenna, and Avon to check it out. They avoid en-maddening thanks to Blake, and make off with the ship – killing Raiker in the process (hooray!). They are apparently now going to follow the prison ship, rescue the other prisoners, and then Stick It To The Man.

One thing that really impressed me was the amount of time spent on the crew. It shows that they are not monsters (with the exception of Raiker): the young kid studying to get off the prison ship, the commander struggling to do the best he can with a pretty awful situation – they’re humanised, but not to the detriment of the prisoners’ characterisation. That’s a pretty impressive achievement.

I have to watch the third episode. I still can’t get over the fashion, although I am steadily developing those convenient blinkers that allow you to watch old Dr Who without being phased by bad SFX. I’m not yet sure whether I’ll turn into the fully fledged Blake’s tragic, but I can at least understand how that happens.

Ship Breaker: not quite what I hoped for

I really enjoyed The Wind Up Girl. I know there are problems with it, and a lot of people have taken it apart, and I agree with at least some of those points. But still, I thought it was a breathtaking view of the world in the not-quite-near future. So I was looking forward to seeing what Bacigalupi would do with YA, and a loooot of people have been raving about this book. I’m sad, then, to say that I was disappointed.

It begins well: Nailer, a boy of indeterminate age, clambering through the wreck of a ship and scrabbling for copper to salvage and make the quote required by his work crew. It’s dangerous, unpleasant work, and that is carried very effectively indeed in the opening pages. In fact, the opening is the most effective – and affective – section of the whole novel: it conveys the reality of life for Nailer and others like him in stark simplicity, complete with dangerous working conditions and the possibility of betrayal. I certainly felt for Nailer in his circumstances, and this sympathy was probably the only thing that kept me reading to the end.

Living on a beach with a crowd of similarly destitute and desperate types, Nailer’s life is of course no picnic. It’s made worse when a massive storm comes in and threatens the entire beach, but starts to look up when the storm proves to have driven a modern, very expensive, clipper ship onto the rocks nearby. Naturally, there are complications, and events proceed neither as he expected nor, entirely, as he hoped. There is fighting, betrayal, hope, and agonising decisions as the story plays out. Through all of this, Nailer is exposed to both the better and worse sides of humanity (and the not-quite-human). It’s not quite a coming-of-age story, although given this is (I think) the beginning of a trilogy, perhaps it will evolve as such. It is a discovery-of-the-world story, and Nailer’s eyes – until this point restricted to an unpleasant family and a little-hope life of scavenging and starvation – are the perfect vehicle for Bacigalupi’s exploration of a dystopia where oil is scarce, oceans have risen, and the divide between rich and poor is even more obvious, in the USA, than it is (believed to be) today.

The world created is a compelling one, as dystopias like this, set not-that-far-away, in a world both familiar and unrecognisable thanks to the changes wrought by climate change (readers of The Wind Up Girl will know this is something Bacigalupi is fascinated by), can be. How the world might manage still to transport goods over the globe when there is next to no oil left is one of the big questions addressed here, as is how society would cope with the changes forced on it – and his answer (“not very well, for the poor”) is all too realistic. Unfortunately, the world-building was also one of the aspects I had a problem with. Too often I felt that new aspects of the world were thrust onto the reader with little forewarning, leaving me disoriented. It may not have been so bad had Nailer, our eyes, been equally jarred. Much of the time, though, he appeared to be comfortable with these ‘new’ parts of his world, as though it was what he had expected all along. This discontinuity was disconcerting.

The other issue I had was with the characters. Nailer’s development is fairly consistent with what we learn of him early on, and there is some lovely characterisation and discussion of his decision-making which genuinely felt real. Many of the other characters, however, are too far in the shade – they get too little light cast on their motivations, leaving them at best two-dimensional and Nailer having to carry the entire story himself… which he’s not quite up to. Nailer’s work crew, for example – a hodgepodge of ethnicities, religions and outlooks on life – are described well early on and then become largely irrelevant. The one exception is Pima, the boss girl. Yet even here, with Pima getting into the action much more than the other crew, the reader learns next to nothing about her thoughts or views on life. The same goes for a few of the other characters (explaining who they are would be a terrible spoiler, though, so I won’t go into details). This lack of depth in the characters was another of the disappointments.

My disappointment overall probably stems from the book having been over-hyped, and my own expectations of Bacigalupi. It is a well-realised world, and one that I am pleased to see being examined in a YA context – the possible results of oil scarcity and changes to the weather are definitely worth exploring. The plot is interesting enough, and there’s certainly a lot of action; there is some variety in the characters and their situations, which breaks at least some of the monotony stemming from being Nailer-focussed. But I don’t think I will be hanging out for the sequel.

Cryoburn, or The End of Bujold… so far

Tehani and I conclude our conversational reviews of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. There are LOTS of spoilers! (The rest can be read here.)

 

 

 

 

ALEX:

Well Tehani, I guess we actually have to bite the bullet and admit that we have come to the end of the Vorkosigan saga, as fas as has been published so far anyway.

 TEHANI:

*sniff* I think we might have put this last review off a little, cos it’s THE END (so far, we can only hope!).

ALEX:

I KNOW I was putting this off! I have read somewhere that she is working on ANOTHER one, but given it took a decade to get from Diplomatic Immunity to this, there will be no holding of breath.

I’ll start off by sacrificing my reputation and saying that this is definitely not my favourite story – I would not want to come to Miles with this book, because I think that the first couple of chapters might have really turned me off! In fact for the first third or so I wasn’t overly impressed at all. It was a very abrupt beginning, the whole wandering-through-the-tunnels thing; being suddenly on a world that we’ve never experienced before, AND minus Ekaterin – to whom I had become so accustomed over the last few books – was quite disorienting. I had to keep reminding myself that I trusted Bujold’s story-telling and character-development skills in order to keep going.

TEHANI:

The beginning is a bit off-putting, for sure. There is precedent though, as it uses the same technique as in “Borders of Infinity”, dropping us into the middle of action we know nothing about. I thought it was very effective, especially given most people reading the book WILL know the characters, so you’re not coming into it blind. Having said that, you’re right in that if this was your first Miles book it would be a shock!

ALEX:

You’re right that it’s similar to “Borders.” Somehow though, that felt more… familiar maybe? Because Miles had been having similar-ish experiences. This time, though, it’s quite different from the last couple of books.

Anyway, as Bujold has started to implement over the last few books, we have multiple perspectives again in this novel; the other main one presented is that of the young boy, Jin, whom Miles befriends – or is befriended by, really. This was interesting and different for the Miles books, since previously it’s been the perspective of people we already know, or Ekaterin. It did make me like the young characters a bit more, and it was a different and otherwise impossible view of the world itself.

TEHANI:

And don’t forget Roic! The stoic armsman has a bigger role here, foreshadowed in his point of view narration of “Winterfair Gifts”. It’s interesting, because the first time I read Cryoburn, I absolutely raced through it, and was left with the impression when I talked about it later that it was Miles and Roic narrating, and that I hadn’t liked it. That first time, it felt like the two voices were too similar and there didn’t seem to be a purpose to the dual narrative perspective. THIS time though, I had a completely different opinion! I’d forgotten about Jin, and yes, I think that works really well – particularly interesting in that Miles is now a REAL DADDY and has a much better understanding of kids! But even the Roic POV worked better for me, and I think it was well done.

ALEX:

I do love me some Roic, I’ll admit. I like the adult-but-not-military-male point of view. And he’s a maybe a little less in awe of Miles, maybe? You’re right that Miles’ attitude towards Jin and his sister is maybe a bit more understanding than it was before, although he dealt with Nicky fairly well.

The plot is, on the surface, a standard investigative one – is a cryogenic company doing, or going to do, something dodgy on Komarr? 

TEHANI:

Yep, but we don’t find this out until quite a long way into the book! For a goodly while, we’re really not certain what the heck Miles has been sent to do – doesn’t help that he finds himself an even more interesting mystery while on the planet, which occupies much of the storytelling 🙂 

ALEX:

Oh that’s right! I forgot that – it just gets all so tied together in the end 🙂

Miles is sent to find out, on the pretence of attending a cryogenics conference – which also allows us to be reconnected with Raven, the very young clone who helped Miles a bit way back in Memory. Of course, this being Miles, the whole thing develops into something even more unsavoury. As with his meddling on Cetaganda, Miles ends up helping another planet discover something rather wrong at the heart of their system. In this case, on a world where cryogenic storage is close to being the accepted norm for every person (at least those who can afford it…), it turns out that a few decades ago the preserving fluid was faulty, so the people preserved then are actually, genuinely dead. This is bad enough, but is made worse – and far worse, perhaps, from the companies’ perspective – because in storing those bodies, the companies get the rights to the frozen people’s votes. So they are in effect exercising the rights of people who are dead. The whole situation on this planet is gerontocracy taken to a bizarre degree. Miles doesn’t exactly end this, but he certainly helps the world out. And foils the dastardly plans of the cryogenics corp, Chrysanthemum, to do the same on Komarr.

The story is made the more interesting with Mark and Kareen turning up to make a business investment, meaning we get to see the brothers interacting outside of the family sphere and with their respective businesses potentially either colliding or colluding.

TEHANI:

And I’d forgotten this entirely! That Mark and Kareen have a part (and quite an important one!) in the story. Was most odd rereading – almost like I hadn’t read it before at all! 

ALEX:

That’s a good thing!

And then Mark and Miles travel together most of the way to Barrayar and… well, then we get to the bit where I cried just a little. Because after an entire book about death, and with Miles earlier brooding over what it would be like when he was finally told that his father had died, that’s exactly what happens. He is greeted by those three little words: “Count Vorkosigan, sir?” For me, this was a fairly heart-rending moment. When I read it, it had only been 7 weeks since I first met Aral, as he was capturing and falling in love with Cordelia. For him to them up and DIE so soon was… hard. And poor, poor Miles. I really appreciated the way Bujold then told the end of the story, in five discreet ‘drabbles’ – stories of exactly 100 words each. The different perspectives on Aral’s death and its aftermath were very compelling. I had more tears, actually, when it got to Gregor’s perspective, and his insistence that he be a pall-bearer because “the man has carried me since I was five years old … it’s my turn.” SO SAD.

TEHANI:

And I teared up even just reading THAT! Hits me every time. Even though Aral hasn’t played a huge role in the actual storytelling for most of the books, he always loomed so large in Miles’ life, in so many of his decisions (particularly to do with honour, and what it means to be a hero), that he seemed to be hugely present in every book. And how masterful is Bujold. Just three words reduce me to floods of tears – the connotation of what it means for Miles to be addressed that way is something only a seasoned campaigner in the Vorkosigan universe would be so affected by and it’s Bujold’s nod to the intelligence of her fans that she could end the chapter that way, knowing that we would KNOW what it meant. In some ways, I would have preferred the book without the drabbles, although they are indeed heartrending – but for me, I think they are there for the newbie reader, not us.

ALEX:

I thought the drabbles were the perfect conclusion, actually. It saved Bujold from the potential to be all saccharine and unbelievable by trying to do the funeral etc from Miles’ perspective, and allows us an insight into the other characters that we love.

TEHANI:

So where could it possibly go from here? What will happen to Cordelia, adrift in Barrayaran society as a widow? How will Miles handle life as the Count? Will Bujold write more novels? Should she? Who should they focus on?? Of all the threads Bujold has woven in her Vorkosigan tapestry, are there still some unfinished? (I think Ivan’s story isn’t yet done, myself, and maybe Mark and Kareen? And then there’s the children…). Do we WANT more?

ALEX:

A large part of me of course wants more, but… like you say, where would it go? I don’t know whether I want to know about Miles the Father and the stinky nappies, or Miles the Count and the Disappearing Money. I really don’t think I like Ivan enough to want an entire book about him, but I know you disagree rather violently! And if the focus were not Miles… well. That’s not really a Vorkosigan novel, is it? I can’t imagine another Cordelia novel, but I’d sure as hell read the heck out of it.

14 Vorkosigan novels in 7 weeks. I think I am officially an addict.

TEHANI:

YAY!